As with everything else in the pet care industry, the growth in treats has been fueled by the humanization of pets. Even the manner in which pet treats are displayed on shelves, end caps and checkout counters has changed, with pet store aisles now resembling supermarket human snack aisles.

And consumers know what they want in their pet’s treats: Simple, satisfying and healthy.

While the treat category is ever-changing, many of today’s top brands have several things in common. They are listening to their customer demands as they follow a mission of being innovative.

Founded in 2014 by Patrick Caprez, Natural Cravings was formed with the idea of creating a holistic line of dog treats that were sourced and made in the United States. The livestock are treated humanely while being pasture finished and raised without antibiotics. Among the Natural Cravings SKUs are bones, chews and bully sticks, with sizzle sticks and a 12-inch super monster bully stick topping the brand’s list of most popular items.

“When Patrick came up with the super monster, that’s when the brand exploded,” said Lucy Calamari Caprez, marketing director for Natural Cravings. “The bully sticks come in three sizes, but the super monsters were getting the most attention. People would come to the trade shows looking for those bully sticks.”

Barking Buddha, a separate brand comprised of grass-fed, free-range, sustainably sourced dog treats sourced from South America, was launched by Patrick Caprez two years after he started Natural Cravings,

“Patrick felt the market was in need of US-quality treat products at a more affordable price, so he traveled to South America, visited the plants and Barking Buddha was formed,” Calamari Caprez explained. “The Barking Buddha SKUs were originally a carbon copy of Natural Cravings, but at a different price point for a South American-sourced product.”

What also sets the two brands apart is the Beef Cheek, which Calamari Caprez describes as a game changer that Caprez invented for Barking Buddha. It had a soft launch in 2016 but was officially introduced to the industry in March 2017 at Global Pet Expo.

“I remember Patrick holding up the product and announcing ‘I am going to call it a Beef Cheek. It’s a cute name, it’s descriptive and it tells you what the product is made of,’” Calamari Caprez recalled.

Riding on the popularity of the Beef Cheek, Barking Buddha is this month launching a new product created by Caprez called the Pork Cheek, which has a pork flavor wrapped in beef jerky.

“Patrick came up with the look of the pork cheek, the recipe and how to make it,” she said. “Innovation is Patrick’s favorite word. He’s always thinking about what we’re going to do next, what will keep people talking and, more importantly, what are we going to edit out of the two product lines because it’s become a paper weight or other people have it. We want to be first on the market with something and let everyone else copy us. We’re always changing with the market. We believe that you have to stay relevant by changing. We change with our customers. We listen to pet owners.”

Founded in 2005, Pure Treats has established a reputation for making high quality dog and cat treats with the PureBites brand. Built on a core principle of asking pet parents to examine its pure, natural ingredients list, the manufacturer has built a loyal following of consumers wanting only the best for their dog or cat.

All PureBites dog and cat treats are made with only one, two or three ingredients. Made with human-grade ingredients that are sourced in the United States, PureBites treats are pure, natural and grain-free. The brand’s freeze-dried treats are high in protein, low in calorie, and support healthy skin and coat.

“PureBites offers pet parents the peace of mind knowing that they are buying treats made with ingredient labels that have one to three ingredients and that are easy to read and understand,” said Andrea Bourne, marketing manager for PureBites. “All PureBites treats are made using a delicate process to ensure only the fewest whole ingredients are included.”

In 2019, Earth Animal celebrated 20 years in the pet care industry by opening a free-standing retail store in Westport, Connecticut, and adding a peanut butter variety to its popular No-Hide Wholesome Chews line. A healthy, hand-rolled alternative to rawhide while containing no chemicals, bleaches, formaldehydes or additives, No-Hide chews average 80 percent digestibility, while the digestibility of rawhide is far less, according to Earth Animal.

One of the first products Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein introduced under the couple’s Earth Animal banner was All Natural Chicken Cutlets with Brushed-On Benefits. The dog treats come in several varieties that address common dog conditions, with supplements applied via an olive oil marinade.

“We use it as sort of a carrier to get the individual nutrients to stick to the chicken,” Dr. Goldstein said. “We developed a process where we actually marinate the chicken tenders in the solution that contains the brushed-on benefits, so they get absorbed into the treat, then we dehydrate them at a very low temperature.”

West Paw, a pet brand known for its eco-friendly dog toys, beds, collars and leashes, has this year entered the pet treat market with its first ever collection of healthy dog treats. This summer saw the brand launch three types of treats and six flavors. West Paw treats are sustainably sourced snacks that pair with the brand’s award-winning toys. The lineup features Creamy Treats, Limited Ingredient Freeze-Dried Treats and Single-Ingredient Freeze Dried Treats.

“When we set out to develop treats for West Paw, we had a clear mission to make delicious and healthy dog treats that included sustainably sourced and humanly raised animal proteins,” said Sarah Hamilton, senior lifestyle manager at West Paw. “We spent over three years researching the market, learning about dog nutrition, listening to consumers and retailers, and speaking to ranchers, processors and treat manufacturers to make sure we could get our treats right.  This research led us to focus on whole food ingredients for our Freeze Dried treats.  We chose fruits and vegetables that are familiar to our consumers and tasty for their dogs, and we combined those ingredients with animal proteins that were raised on sustainable ranches and farms and treated humanely throughout their lives.

“Since we make treat toys like Toppl and Tux, we knew there was a demand for tasty creamy treats that were made specifically for dogs,” she continued.  “We took the same philosophy of finding great ingredients that dogs love, like peanut butter and bananas in our creamy treats. Additionally, all of our treats working perfectly with our treat and puzzle toys.  We also wanted our treats to be in packaging that was as sustainably as possible, so we sourced aluminum tubes that consumers can just drop into their recycling bin when their dog has eaten all the yummy goodness.”

Ethical Products, a leading manufacturer of pet supplies, last year announced its launch of Fieldcrest Farms, allowing the company to enter into the category of natural chews, including bully sticks, hooves, knee caps, femur bones and more.

“Ethical is a recognized leader in the alternative chew category with its expansive line of nylon, bamboo, rubber, rope and plush chew toys,” said Ethical Products president Jonathan Zelinger during the Fieldcrest Farms launch. “With the addition of Fieldcrest Farms, we can now offer one stop shopping for a full array of chew products to distributors and independent pet stores. Fieldcrest Farms products will be sold exclusively in brick and mortar locations and will not be offered for sale via e-commerce websites.”

According to Mike Risoli, purchasing and inventory manager at Ethical Products, the addition of a natural treat line was a natural extension for the brand.

“We’ve been in business for 68 years, and customers have asked us to get into natural treats and chews,” he explained. “We started off with around 30 SKUs. The vast majority of our product comes from Brazil, which is known for its meat products. From monster femurs, knee caps, pig ears, bully sticks—you name it, we’ve got it. This way, our customers can buy it all from us in one shipment. And the product is an excellent product.”

With Ethical Products being associated with innovative products and thinking outside the box, it comes as no surprise that Fieldcrest Farms introduced its own rawhide alternative earlier this year in the Nothin’ to Hide. According to Risoli, the Nothin’ to Hide chews are 96 percent digestible. Available in retriever rolls for large dogs, flip chips for medium-size dogs and twist stix for smaller dogs (which have been the best sellers of the lineup), the company plans to launch a peanut butter flavor and two new shapes this month.

“It’s a fantastic product,” he said. “We’re on fire with it. A rawhide alternative that looks like rawhide. It’s made from human-grade collagen powder that’s produced from the meat industry. It has tons of benefits, including how it helps support joint health.”

The brand also makes a bully stick alternative in its Bully Crunchers, which are highly digestible at 95+ percent. Made from beef skin from the animal’s tender forehead, the product is sourced from Brazil and made via a proprietary process that results in the skin coming out in the shape of a bully stick.

“It lasts as long as a bully stick, if not longer,” Risoli explained. “It’s high in protein, it’s less expensive than bully sticks and has less of an odor than a bully stick. A lot of consumers are looking for single ingredient treats, and we listen to our customers.”

Purina is another brand that has developed several new treats this year, including its Prime Bones, which the brand describes as safe, long-lasting, rawhide-free chews. The chews are crafted to satisfy a dog’s instinctual love of chewing. Prime Bones are made without corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors or preservatives in the Purina-owned and operated facility in Dunkirk, New York.

The natural chews come in three varieties; a pasture-fed bison chew sourced from animals born and raised in North America, a free-range wild boar version that’s sourced from the Outback of New South Wales, Australia, and a wild venison variety sourced primarily from regions around Victoria, Australia.

Wild Eats, one of several brands in the Cosmic Pet roster, has long been known for its range of water buffalo chew products. This year the company rebranded, which included an expansion of its single-source protein products to include cod, salmon, venison and lamb. The product lineup features the likes of jerky treats, meat sticks, freeze-dried treats, munchy rolls and such chews as horns, ears, tails, bully sticks, hooves, gullet, cheek rolls and cheek strips.

“This expansion and rebrand allows us to continue our mission of providing sustainable, single-ingredient products to pets and pet owners, while pushing the industry forward and growing with the consumer demand of serving their pets nothing but the best,” said Tim Blurton, CEO of Cosmic Pet, adding that the water buffalo, lamb and venison treats are free-range, grass-fed, gluten- and grain-free, while the salmon and cod products are wild-caught.

The product line expansion is highlighted with elevated brand packaging. The new, aesthetic look provides an effective visual, color-coded system to differentiate between protein sources and products. The look enhances a brand personality that speaks to each individual protein and the natural environments from which they are sourced.

Today’s treat manufacturers are listening to consumers as they continue to evolve and keep producing innovative products. As a result, retailers have the ability to offer their customers a wide variety of new and exciting treats that they can purchase to spoil their fur baby. As the current demands from consumers include wholesome, natural, limited-ingredient treats, store owners can rest assured that there will be plenty of options for them to stock, which will result in full shopping baskets and increased sales.